Tech entrepreneurs’ research to improve Team GB hopeful’s prosthetic leg socket

The team are using technology to help develop a more comfortable prosthetic socket for Paralympics hopeful Tania Goddard
3rd May 2019

Two young entrepreneurs at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) are working on improving the design of prosthetic legs and their sockets in collaboration with an athlete. Working in Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) with Dr Appolinaire Etoundi, Mike Rose and Mayur Hulke are using technology to help develop a more comfortable prosthetic socket for Paralympics hopeful Tania Goddard.

Mrs Goddard is an above-knee amputee who is part of the British Shooting Talent Pathway Programme for Team GB and hopes to compete in the Paralympic Games, either in Tokyo 2020 or Paris 2024.

Two years ago she approached Dr Etoundi, who is Senior Lecturer in Mechatronics at UWE Bristol and uses inspiration from systems found in nature to optimise rehabilitation devices such as prosthetic limbs. Mrs Goddard asked him to develop a socket to house her prosthetic leg that avoids common discomfort experienced with existing models, such as chafing or excessive temperatures.

With a background in mechanical engineering, Dr Etoundi is working to identify the cause behind this discomfort and use technology to come up with solutions.

“The aim is to develop an intelligent socket that will adapt to the patient’s condition through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and composite materials to determine when there are fluctuations in temperature and pressure within the socket,” said Dr Etoundi, who works in BRL, which is based on the University’s Frenchay campus.

Mike Rose, who is a robotics student at UWE Bristol, is to provide an innovative design able to measure internal changes occurring inside the socket, using sensors. It will do this by collecting the data and passing it through a deep learning algorithm before processing the information into a useable format.

This data will be used to enable the design of a smart socket to provide improved comfort for the wearer as well as giving a detailed analysis of the system’s daily operation.

Rose said: “Our current research involves looking into electromyography (EMGs) and mechanomyography (MMGs) sensors and understanding how they react to the subtle movements of human muscles. Working very closely with Dr Etoundi, we are currently using the data from EMG sensors to see how we can manipulate robotic systems such as artificial lower limbs and prosthetic sockets.”

Mayur Hulke, working alongside user experience researcher Diana Kviatkovskaja (pictured), is focused on developing a form of Artificial Intelligence that enables the technology to work proactively in adjusting to, and supporting each individual patient’s needs.

Hulke said: “We are now able to combine biological human sensory systems with smart external limbs and this will be helping individuals to overcome certain physical limitations and, in some cases, restore their quality of life.”

Mrs Goddard, who used to work as a police community support officer (PCSO) in South Bristol, had her leg amputated in 2012 due to a medical condition. Despite learning very quickly to use her new prosthetic limb, she has been unable to find a socket that is pain-free. 

“After 15 NHS sockets in two years and being told they were unable to help me lead a normal life, I thought I had to face living the rest of my life in a wheelchair,” she said.

As part of the research project conducted by Dr Etoundi, she has walked around the Frenchay campus wearing one of her prosthetic legs on a socket containing specially designed sensors detecting where rubbing occurs, as well as fluctuations in temperature.

“This work is giving me real hope to be able to walk again, and it could help thousands of amputees across the world, because if they can get a socket design to fit me, then it will fit anyone. All I ever wanted to was to be able to go back out on patrol as a police officer and be a proper mum to my children,” said Goddard.

The entrepreneurs Goddard is working with are also developing bio-inspired prosthetic devices and robotic exoskeletons. On 4 May, they take part inBristol Museum’s Leonardo da Vinci exhibition, in line with the famous artist’s interest in skeleton, muscles, and movement.

Mayur Hulke will be showcasing his tracking motion software using a web camera and how this can be used to control the motion of an artificial limb. Meanwhile Mike Rose will be demonstrating how a robotic clamp closes in response to sensors on somebody’s upper arm that detect muscle movement when the person clenches their fist.